Disabled fans eager to return to live events
A new ‘audience snapshot’ by music and event industry charity Attitude is Everything indicates that a majority of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people want to return to live events – as long as accessible safety precautions are in place.
The poll of 289 individuals with a history of attending live events found that respondents went to more than 5,000 indoor and more than 1,200 outdoor live events in 2019 – from gigs and festivals to football matches and book launches.
Following the UK’s relaxation of restrictions on 19 July, 50% of respondents say they would feel comfortable attending an indoor live event and 73% said they would feel comfortable attending an outdoor live event, as long as they are confident that as many accessible measures as possible have been put in place to increase safety.
Almost three-quarters (74%) have additional access requirements in order to attend live events, such as companion tickets, accessible seating, step-free access and accessible toilets.
The results underscore the need for event organisers to ensure that access and Covid-safety measures are at the forefront of reopening plans.
Just over two-thirds (67%) of respondents considered themselves to be at heightened risk if they were to contract Covid-19, with 46% having shielded in 2020, and 27% feeling it necessary to return to shielding now rules have been lifted.
“More than ever before, it’s time to recognise that the disabled community are part of the life-blood of culture in the UK”
Furthermore, 42% didn’t see how a live venue could be a safe environment for them at the time they completed the survey (19 July– 1 August), with 24% feeling that they won’t be able to get to an indoor live event until next year at the earliest.
Eighty-three per cent said they would attend a venue or event that requires the NHS Covid Pass to gain entry, with 67% stating they would actively choose a venue that requires an NHS Covid Pass to gain entry over one that doesn’t.
Almost all (96%) of all respondents said it is important that venues and events engage with disabled people who don’t feel safe to return just yet, with 78% thinking venues and events should maintain online streaming as an option.
“In 2019, disabled people were big consumers of live events. In fact, in the years before the pandemic, the economic spend from disabled people attending live music grew from £3.4 million in 2013 to £9.3 million in 2019, so there was always going to be a huge demand from the disabled community to return to live events,” says Suzanne Bull MBE, founder of Attitude is Everything.
“Understandably, disabled people have real and deep-seated fears about how safe live events will be after the pandemic. I urge the live events sector to address concerns and make demonstratable efforts to welcome those with access requirements back to their venues and events, and for artists to become actively involved in this welcome.
“Over the past 18 months, disabled people have been loyal in donating to venues and campaigns to support musicians, and bought music, art and books to help creatives to sustain themselves. So more than ever before, it’s time to recognise that the disabled community are part of the life-blood of culture in the UK.”
Following the survey, Attitude is Everything calls on event organisers to check their post-19 July Covid-safety information and practices against its list of reopening measures supported by respondents.
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Attitude is Everything appoints Vick Bain
Attitude is Everything, a charity that connects deaf and disabled people with live music and event industries, has hired Vick Bain to the role of interim director of strategy, effective immediately.
Bain’s role will involve “scoping out new opportunities for partnerships and business development in this new Covid-impacted era for the charity and the music and event industries”.
Alongside her new role, Bain is also an industry consultant; a campaigner of diversity and inclusion in the music industry; a director of the board of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and music tech start-up Delic; and a trustee of the Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA).
“We are delighted to announce that Vick Bain will be working with Attitude is Everything. Her experience and standing in the music industry will be invaluable in these challenging times. We are excited to be working with Vick and to have the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge she brings to the team,” says Ailsa McWilliam, director of operations for Attitude is Everything.
“I will be ensuring that equal access remains at the top of the agenda for all venues and festivals when we re-open”
Vick Bain says: “I have long supported and admired the work of Attitude is Everything, who have done incredible work over the years ensuring people living with disabilities have the same opportunities of access to live music as everyone else.
“This year has been an incredibly challenging one for the entire music industry, and therefore I am deeply honoured to be working with Attitude over the coming months at this crucial time, ensuring that equal access remains at the top of the agenda for all venues and festivals when we move towards re-opening.”
During her 25-year career in the sector, Bain has held positions such as CEO of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors (now the Ivors Academy).
For her campaigning work, Bain was enrolled into the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Music Industry Powerlist 2018.
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Key deaf and disabled organisations form alliance
Twelve audience accessibility organisations and networks, along with two government sector champions, have come together to form a new informal group, Audience Access Alliance (AAA).
Founding members of the AAA include live music and event industries charity Attitude is Everything, alongside Performance Interpreting, Disability Collaborative Network, Transport for All, VocalEyes and more.
Andrew Miller, appointed by the government as a disability champion for the arts and culture sector, has also joined the AAA.
Today, the AAA published an open letter – marking the 10th anniversary of the Equalities Act – to urge the cultural, sports, heritage and tourism sectors to continue consulting with deaf and disabled audiences – even despite Covid.
The letter notes that despite deaf and disabled people being among the most impacted by Covid, not every disabled person is medically “vulnerable” to the virus and there remains a strong desire among many to participate in inclusive online events and return to in-person activities such as gigs as soon as rules allow.
“We can enable you to consult with deaf and disabled audiences, ensure that the gains we have jointly made are not lost, and help secure the widest possible audiences to support you in the difficult times ahead,” the letter reads.
“We can enable you to consult with deaf and disabled and help secure the widest possible audiences”
Jacob Adams, head of campaigns, Attitude is Everything added: “We are delighted to be joined by like-minded colleagues in forging this unprecedented Audience Access Alliance, extending a message of solidarity to the sectors we are proud to support.
“The need for cross-sector collaboration and conversation has never felt more vital, with unprecedented pressures on the industries we support, and so many parallels regarding the conversations we are having to support accessible reopening.
“Collectively, we champion the importance of deaf, disabled and neurodivergent audiences to the UK economy, and the role they can play in aiding the industries they love in the months and years ahead.”
Andrew Miller, UK government disability champion for arts & culture said, “Disabled people’s continued participation in live events and culture has been severely threatened by this pandemic.
“So I fully endorse the Audience Access Alliance call to the industry to ‘build back better’ and ensure that essential access is not only maintained but enhanced, making the recovery fully inclusive of disabled audiences in all settings“.
Since the Equalities Act came into force, participation by disabled people across the cultural and creative sectors has increased significantly.
In 2019/20, 76% of deaf and disabled people engaged with the arts (vs 77% of non-disabled people), closing the estimated 9% gap in engagement recorded in 2008/09.
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Vibrating vest lets you “hear music” through your skin
Deaf and hard of hearing people will be able to experience music through their skin, thanks to a new haptic technology developed by Not Impossible Labs.
Not Impossible Labs, a company which uses technology to solve “seemingly impossible” problems, has developed a vibrating vest which will allow people with all kinds of hearing to sense the sound of music, rather than hear it.
The vest uses haptic feedback, which is the kinesthetic reaction we receive when we touch something, or something touches us. We perceive that object according to the response we receive from that touch.
The only vibrations at live music events come from traditional speaker systems but with the new invention, deaf and hard of hearing people will be able to enjoy live music.
“Deep down, at the core of this whole concept, it’s about how we can be humans together”
Daniel Belquer, the team’s director of technology, explains the software that runs that haptic suit to Freethink, “Right now we have 24 points of vibration in the system and they’re all individually controllable. We can control frequency and amplitude. We can make a note stronger or weaker, higher or lower.”
“[This project] is not just about the experience. It’s about the community. Deep down, at the core of this whole concept, it’s about how we can be humans together.”
The project, entitled Music: Not Impossible, took years of research, development and collaboration with deaf sing-songwriter Mandy Harvey in order to engineer a complete platform for composing, translating, and sending vibrations wirelessly.
Beyond the Music helps deaf and disabled into industry
Attitude is Everything, the UK’s leading authority on live music accessibility, is launching a three-year programme that aims to boost employment opportunities for deaf and disabled people in the commercial music sector.
Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, Beyond the Music will provide the necessary skills, experience, resources and guidance for deaf and disabled people and also for music businesses, in order to plug the employment gap and create inclusive work environments.
“Attitude is Everything believes it is crucial that deaf and disabled people have full and equal access to any employment opportunities on offer,” says head of volunteering and skills development for Attitude is Everything, Paul Hawkins.
“Beyond The Music will allow us to try and identify why deaf and disabled workers are so underrepresented in the sector, and to take positive action to implement change. The first step towards that goal is the survey we are launching today. We are enormously grateful to the National Lottery for funding this project, and also for support we’ve received from venues and others in the business. More will be needed on the road ahead as we strive for equality and inclusivity.”
“Beyond The Music will allow us to try and identify why deaf and disabled workers are so underrepresented in the sector”
Beyond the Music’s accompanying survey will collect responses from deaf or disabled people, who work or aspire to work in the industry, which will help to shape the programme.
Attitude is Everything has also shared a number of objectives it hopes to achieve during the time period, including building a Beyond the Music Network, creating an Accessible Employment and Volunteering Toolkit and organising Accessible Creative Environments training.
“For a number of years UK Music has been a proud supporter of Attitude is Everything’s great work to improve access to music and the music industry for deaf and disabled people,” says UK Music acting CEO, Tom Kiehl. “Beyond The Music is an exciting new initiative that everyone must now get behind. We look forward to working with Attitude is Everything on this and welcoming them to the UK Music Diversity Taskforce.”
The initiative launched after findings from Arts Council England showed that just 1.8% of staff at music industry organisations consider themselves to be disabled, though 19% of working adults in the UK’s general population are considered disabled under the Equality Act.
Last year, Attitude is Everything revealed that its own research found that 70% of disabled musicians hid details of their impairment for fear of losing opportunities and that two-thirds had compromised their health to perform in inaccessible conditions.
AiE to boost disabled artists’ careers with Next Stage
In a departure from its usual work improving accessibility for disabled concert- and festivalgoers, UK music charity Attitude is Everything has launched Next Stage, an initiative aimed at boosting the careers of British artists with impairments or long-term health conditions.
Its goal is twofold:
1) To overcome the “knowledge gap” surrounding disabled musicians
“Deaf and disabled artists have made and continue to make a significant contribution to British music,” explains the charity. “But there is an overall lack of information about their work and livelihoods. For instance, what challenges do individuals with impairments face in studios and at venues? How comfortable are artists with sharing their experiences and needs? What development opportunities need to be more inclusive?”
To tackle this “knowledge gap”, as part of Next Stage Attitude is Everything has created a survey seeking views on issues ranging from access requirements at live shows to studio recording and arts funding applications. Submissions are encouraged from artists, musicians, songwriters, DJs and music creators of all backgrounds and across all genres.
The survey findings will be presented and discussed at the Great Escape in May 2019.
“Next Stage is an ambitious departure for Attitude is Everything”
2) To boost talent development and create more accessible music industry
“UK Music, the industry’s umbrella organisation, has identified a number of challenges that might thwart the future success of UK artists and imperil the UK’s ‘talent pipeline’,” says Attitude is Everything. “It is imperative that disabled musicians are involved in this conversation.
“Talented individuals cannot be allowed to fall through the cracks, and it is vital those with physical or mental impairments receive sufficient support to help develop their art and creativity.”
Drawn from the survey findings, Next Stage’s secondary phase will be to develop a comprehensive artist network, connecting the aforementioned individuals with access requirements to showcase, as well as funding opportunities, breaking down barriers to live performance.
The campaign is also being supported by a number deaf and disabled musicians, including Blaine Harrison of the Mystery Jets, rapper Signkid, Rob Maddison of Revenge of Calculon and Kris ‘Winter of ’82’ Halpin.
“I believe we can build a thriving network of talent”
Suzanne Bull MBE, CEO of Attitude is Everything, comments: “Next Stage is an ambitious departure for Attitude is Everything. We have spent almost 20 years working for disabled audiences and now, with support from Arts Council England, we want to improve accessibility for disabled artists.
“This process will not be easy. The challenges facing deaf and disabled people are often hidden, and rarely discussed publicly. There are a range of stigmas and sensibilities. So our first goal is to collect information through a comprehensive and wide-reaching survey.
“By paying attention to artists’ voices, I believe we can build a thriving network of talent that will enhance British music and benefit all in the wider music community.”
“This project brought music to life – in my language,” adds Signkid.
To take the Next Stage survey, click here.
Backstage with Holly Maniatty, the internet’s favourite interpreter
If you’ve ever stumbled on a viral video interpreter captivating a concert audience with a barrage of animated, quick-fire sign language, you’re likely already familiar with the work of Holly Maniatty.
Maniatty has been working as an American sign language (ASL) interpreter since 2000, and now specialises in signing for concerts and festivals, making shows by the likes of Jay-Z, Bruce Springsteen, Marilyn Manson, Kanye West, U2 and Eminem accessible to hearing-impaired concertgoers, and winning her a legion of fans – deaf and hearing alike – in the process.
Whether it’s ‘slaying it’ with Eminem, dancing with Waka Flocka Flame or bringing da ruckus with Wu-Tang Clan, Maniatty’s joyous, ebullient brand of signing has made her an internet star and one of the most in-demand ASL interpreters in the US.
The role of the interpreter, Maniatty (pictured) explains, goes far beyond memorising the words and translating them into ASL – her job, she tells IQ, is to “make every moment of the performance accessible. That means the music, the lyrics, the crowd, the emcee – everything.”
“For me that is a process that involves a lot of prep work,” she continues. “Depending on the artist, it can range anywhere from ten to 50 hours for a 45-minute performance. This includes research about the artist, the lyrical references, their influences, the musical story and authors. It’s a multi-layered process to give [fans] access to the musician.”
As the name suggests, ASL is a language in its own right, with its own grammar, syntax and structure unrelated to English. (ASL and British Sign Language, for example, are mutually unintelligible, despite both countries using English as a spoken language.) Accordingly, says Maniatty, concert interpreters focus on the meaning of the lyrics, “as interpreting is a meaning-for-meaning process.
“I hope this brings access to shows into the forefront of people’s minds”
“There are many equivalencies between ASL and English – but far more that are not equivalent. For example, there may be one phrase with five words in English that requires three signs, and conversely three English words may require ten signs to achieve an equivalency.”
In preparation for her interpretation of Eminem’s recent performance at Firefly Music Festival (which Mashable says “stole the show” during ‘Rap God’), Maniatty says she “worked on memorising both the musical story and the lyrics”. “One really great thing about Eminem is that his personal story, background and musical roots are really well known,” she explains, “as is his genius use of language to engage and entertain.
“These are huge challenges for an interpreter, but also an opportunity to use ASL at its fullest. ASL is a rich and complex language that has so many linguistic opportunities through the use of poetic and storytelling techniques, and this makes it a great marriage with music, and specifically hip hop.
“‘Rap God’ is very lyrically intense – the middle section where he raps very rapidly is also a challenge. I worked on that section of the song for a good five to eight hours, and then built the interpretation out from there.”
Maniatty says the demand for interpreters at concerts is still growing, driven by an increased awareness of their availability among deaf concertgoers. With the prevalence of social media, she explains, “people are more aware, instantaneously, of what is happening, or has happened, around the world. So as interpreters became more available for events and concerts, patrons became more aware and started requesting interpreters.”
“YouTube, and other user-sourced video sites,” she adds, “have made this a viral phenomenon – it is wonderful to get the word out and raise awareness.”
“ASL is a rich and complex language that has so many linguistic opportunities”
As the number of deaf people attending concerts increases, Maniatty says she hopes her online popularity, as well as that of other interpreters, will drive home the message that promoters must be serious about making their shows accessible.
“It comes back to what music and festivals and events are really all about: lots of different kinds of people connecting for the same performance or moment,” she explains. “I think that people see an interpreter and it kind of blows their mind that there are people that use ASL connecting to something that they love as well.
“Ultimately, I hope that it brings awareness to other patrons, producers and, especially, musicians that deaf people want access to their shows. Often patrons have to spend a lot of time emailing and calling and trying to get a hold of someone to request an interpreter. They then have to wait and see if the interpreter is qualified and certified and can do this kind of work well. Other patrons don’t have to do that – they just buy a ticket and show up. So, I hope that this brings access to shows into the forefront of people’s minds.”
“Beyond that, I hope that people take that image of an interpreter back to their everyday lives,” she adds. “Maybe they are a nurse, or a lawyer, or any other profession, and they come in contact with a deaf customer or patient and remember seeing an interpreter, and then provide access to the deaf person.
“Deaf people are still having to fight on a daily basis to get interpreters for doctor’s appointments, courts, et cetera. So hopefully this makes it a little easier, and makes equal access the norm.”
UK industry backs Ticketing Without Barriers
A new industry taskforce backed by leading promoters, ticketing companies, venue operators and associations, the Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition, today launches in the UK with the mission of improving the ticket-buying experience for disabled and deaf audiences.
The coalition will launch at the Roundhouse in London in tandem with the publication of music charity Attitude is Everything’s fourth State of Access Report, which reveals more than 80% of deaf or disabled concertgoers have experienced problems when booking tickets. According to the charity, 70% of the 349 fans surveyed felt they had been discriminated against – and while 37% said accessible booking had improved over the past four years, one in ten had considered legal action.
Based on the results of the report, Attitude is Everything has identified five focus areas where it says event promoters can improve the experience for disabled customers:
A simple and universal system for evidencing access requirements
Fans need a single proof-of-disability system that is uniformly recognised and accepted across the UK, and a single evidence policy adopted by the whole music industry
Accurate and disability aware information and customer service
Fans need all venues and events to provide quality access information online, including uniform terminology for access booking and disability awareness and inclusive communication training for all frontline sales staff
Choice and flexibility when booking tickets
Fans need to be able to book key access provisions online. Access booking systems should integrate online, email and telephone processes, and be flexible enough to incorporate whole party booking
To be able to trust that access requirements will be met
Fans need access bookings to be managed in-house where possible, to be dealt with by dedicated staff contactable by phone and email and for accessible bookings to go live as soon as tickets go on sale
Equal access to everything
Fans need to be able to book access for presales, VIP and meet-and-greet tickets, and with entertainment gift cards, as well as the ability to resell accessible seating. Access booking lines need to use freephone numbers. PA tickets need to be bookable by any deaf or disabled person who requires one. Fans need pre-registration systems to better manage anticipated sell-out sales
In order to deliver these changes, the charity has announced the formation of Ticketing Without Barriers, which comprises more than 35 trade bodies, ticket agencies, promoters and venues. The new pan-industry group will meet imminently at UK Music to establish a programme of delivery, before updating on progress at the Ticketing Professionals Conference in March 2019.
“It feels that everyone’s on the same page, up for the challenge and committed to working towards a positive result”
A full list of members, which includes Live Nation, Ticketmaster, AEG, Broadwick Live, NEC Group, See Tickets, National Arenas Association, Eventim UK and Kilimanjaro Live, can be viewed here.
Suzanne Bull MBE, CEO of Attitude is Everything and disability sector champion for music, says: “With our fourth State of Access Report we wanted to return to probably the single-most important issue that impacts all deaf and disabled music fans: the process of booking tickets. Although there has been much progress in making the ticketing process accessible and inclusive, and certain venues and companies are definitely getting this right for their deaf and disabled customers, we felt that only a comprehensive and truly unified approach would be able to drive through the real and lasting changes that we need.
“In 2018, every large-scale music event should be all-inclusive. Disabled customers should be able to buy a ticket online, they should be encouraged to attend shows with their friends and not have to jump through undignified hoops when things go wrong. As a disabled music fan myself, I’d urge ticket sellers, venues and festivals to understand that all disabled people must enjoy the same experiences as any other fan. The wider music business has the power to fix this, and I’ve been delighted at the response from all who’ve agreed to join the Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition.
“It feels that everyone’s on the same page, up for the challenge and committed to working towards a positive result on this. We now look forward to getting to work, and delivering some results.”
Sarah Newton, UK minister for disabled people, health and work, adds: “Going to a gig or festival is an experience that everyone should be able to enjoy. It’s therefore incredibly important that disabled people have the right access when booking tickets for live music events, which is why I’m really pleased to see leading businesses from across the music industry coming together to improve accessibility.
“We know that disabled people and their households have a combined spending power of £249 billion a year, proving that being inclusive isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.”
The last State of Access report can be read here.
Deaf woman sues UK promoter in signing row
In a legal battle that will be watched closely by concert promoters across the UK, a deaf woman is suing Newark on Trent-based LHG Live because no sign-language interpreter was provided for the support acts at a Little Mix show last July.
Responding to a high court injunction, LHG Live provided Sally Reynolds and two friends, also deaf, with a British sign language (BSL) interpreter for the concert, held at the South of England Event Centre in Ardingly, Sussex, on 1 September. The show featured support from Ella Eyre and the Germein Sisters.
Reynolds tells the BBC that while she felt she and her daughter, who is able to hear, “were really part of the Little Mix experience”, because the show was “so good” she realised afterwards that “we had missed out on the first two acts”, who were not signed, “so it was very much a disparity of experience compared with everyone else.”
Using a not-very-good metaphor that rather ignores the fact Little Mix (pictured) were the show’s headliners, she adds: “We only got access to the last act. If you went to a film can you imagine only getting access to the last 20 minutes?”
LHG Live says it would have been impossible to provide an interpreter for the support acts, as they were only announced 10 days before the Little Mix show
Reynolds is now issuing legal proceedings “for the failure to make reasonable adjustments, in the form of supplying an interpreter, for the whole concert”, reports the BBC.
It is a requirement under the Equality Act 2010 for companies to ensure disabled people’s experiences are as close as possible to those without disabilities.
Reynolds’s solicitor, Chris Fry, comments: “It is important that venues and promoters recognise that the legal duties to make reasonable adjustments extend to them.”
However, responding to the BBC report, LHG Live says it would have been impossible to provide an interpreter for the support acts, being that they were only announced 10 days before the Little Mix show – far short of the minimum time it would take for an interpreter to learn the lyrics (four to six weeks).
“It is important that venues and promoters recognise that the legal duties to make reasonable adjustments extend to them”
In addition to the interpreter, the promoter supplied Reynolds’s party with a full schedule in advance, including running order; upgraded their tickets to golden circle; provided access to private toilet facilities; and ensured all public announcements were made solely on giant screens either side of the main stage, to “ensure 100% accessibility”.
A meeting between LHG Live and the British Deaf Association and music industry charity Attitude is Everything, “to look at potential solutions and ensure the correct accessibility longer term at music events”, was scheduled almost immediately after the show, on 4 September. It is due to take place in February 2018.
A spokesperson for Little Mix says the band “strongly believe their concerts should be completely inclusive for all. The band welcome all fans to their shows, including those with hearing impairment, and encourage the promoters they work with to make provisions to ensure their fans can enjoy the concert experience.”
Attitude is Everything, meanwhile, says it “welcomes” Little Mix’s statement but is unable to comment further on the case.
STAR, AiE partner on accessible ticketing guide
The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) in the UK has published an industry-first guide to accessible ticketing, advising on best practice for selling tickets to disabled and deaf customers.
The guide, Making ticket sales accessible for disabled customers, was commissioned by STAR and written by disability consultancy Nimbus, with input from Attitude is everything. It highlights ways in which ticket agencies can better serve disabled customers, and also addresses the legal and operational considerations around accessible ticketing.
STAR chief executive Jonathan Brown comments: “This guide’s purpose is simple: There needs to be better equal access to online ticketing and organisations need to be considering how they do it, not whether they do it.
“There needs to be better equal access to online ticketing and organisations need to be considering how they do it – not whether they do it”
“STAR has recently run a number of workshops to help increase awareness of this issue. We know that improvements are being made, and there are certainly ticket agents and venues that are currently working towards implementing online booking facilities for disabled people. We look forward to hearing more on these developments later in the year, but there is still much work to be done.”
Penny Mordaunt MP, the UK’s minister of state for disabled people, health and work, adds: “We must do all that we can to offer disabled people a real choice in how and where they spend their time and money. I wholeheartedly welcome the publication of this guide to support ticketing retailers in becoming as accessible as possible, and hope that the whole industry will take the guidance on board.”
The number of deaf and disabled concertgoers rose 26% in 2015. Attitude is Everything CEO Suzanne Bull told IQ earlier this year that there is a growing “international movement towards accessibility”, wherein live music stakeholders are increasingly “expecting disabled people to be in the audience” and making sure their needs are met.